Cable Green advocates for an open license for all publicly funded educational resources

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Cable Green
19 December 2016

The lack of educational resources remains one of the major problems in the world. "Even in the United-States, two thirds of the students do not buy the textbooks they need, because they cannot afford them," says Cable Green, Director of Open Education at Creative Commons (CC), which provides open licenses that enable free and open distribution of works. The CC license is today a global standard givig the people the right to share, use, and build upon an otherwise copyrighted work. Wide angle shares Cable Green's thoughts on the key role that open access to information and knowledge plays in ensuring quality education in the world.

Universal access to information is critical to the development of education. Since10 or 15 years, the educational resources - textbooks, courses, degree programs, etc. – all the tools that we use to teach people how to read and write, how to learn physics and chemistry, how to think critically, are for the most part "born-digital". Even though we have printed copies, even though we have non-internet delivery of educational recourses, there is usually a digital file on the backend. This means that today, thanks to the Internet, the disc space and the cloud computing, we can store, distribute, and make copies of digital works for near zero cost.

On the other hand, we have open licenses that the world uses to share copyrighted works. This is a way for an author to keep his copyright and share his work with the world for free. The open licenses are legal everywhere in the world, they are free and they have been dedicated to the public domain.

When we mix together educational resources and open license, we get open educational resources (OER). This is a term that UNESCO itself coined in 2002.

The year before, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released nearly all its courses on the internet for free access. Since then, hundreds of other universities around the world have followed.

Open doesn't mean only free

When we talk about open educational resources, we are not talking about the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS). 

MOOCS are a wonderful innovation, but most of them are free, but not open.

By open resources, we mean that you have free, unfettered access to them, and that you have the legal permissions to download them, to translate them in different languages, and to modify them for a local context to meet the needs of your learners.

Of course, if we truly want to leverage the power of open educational resources, we need the ICT infrastructure, we need computers and Internet connectivity in all spaces for all people. But, the good news is that even when we don’t have all that, we can still benefit from the open educational resources, because we print them, put them on DVDs, we have memory sticks and very inexpensive WIFI devices to take them all over the world.

This is the world of educational opportunities that we live in today.

What difference does it make? 

When we shift to open educational resources in our country, we are opening the way for a series of positive changes. The first thing that happens is that access and equity to educational resources goes up. One hundred percent of your students have access to all of the educational resources that have been designed for them. This might sound obvious, but even in my country, the United-States, two thirds of the students don’t buy the textbooks for their college or university classes because they cannot afford them.

The next thing that happens is that all the students get access to relevant effective contents that make sense for them, in their context. You can pick up in Mumbai a course that has been shared by the university of Barcelona, and add examples that will appeal to your students, or you can translate it into Hindi.

What happens also is that learning outcomes go up: when one hundred percent of the students in a class or a degree program have all of the resources on day 1, they do better. At the same time, course drop-out rate go down - because people believe they can succeed in a class when they have access to all the educational resources they need to succeed - and, consequently, time-to-degree also drops.

In this way, we are moving students trough their educational opportunities much faster and it is a more effective public investment.

What is even more interesting is that once we have open educational resources in our learning environments, students can become motivated learners and citizen scientists. They can become co-producers, generators and creators of information and knowledge. And this knowledge, because it has an open creative commons license on it, can be shared freely and globally anywhere, anytime.

Other good news: the world is sharing. There are approximately 1.3 billion creative commons licensed works on the web today, including images, movies, government datasets, educational resources, museums, archives, etc.

Supporting openness

In order to support openness – open data, open educational resources, open access to scientific literature –governments should adopt this very simple philosophy: the publicly funded educational resources should by openly licensed by default. The public should have access to what the public pays for. It sounds obvious, but is not the rule. What usually happens is that the governments give grants to grantors, who keep all the rights. The rest of us can get access to nothing. So a very effective return on investment is simply for governments to say: if you take this money to build "x" – this new sanitation system, this physics textbook, or whatever might be for the benefit of the society – you will share what you build under an open license.

In the 2012 Paris OER Declaration UNESCO encouraged the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds, and I am pleased to say that many governments have followed this recommendation.

Cable Green

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Cable Green is Director of Open Education at Creative Commons (CC), which includes over 500 researchers, activists, legal, education and policy advocates, and volunteers who serve as CC representatives in over 85 countries. Working alongside non-governmental institutions, universities, and public agencies, CC affiliates employ region-specific approaches to copyright and intellectual property that help solve local and global challenges.

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Cable Green attended the IPDC Talks organised by UNESCO on 26 September 2016, to celebrate the first International Day for Universal Access to Information. Watch the video